Design in Africa and/or other "non-western regions"

Nothing wrong with swinging for the fence, but a couple of singles will net the exact same outcome. You probably know to keep your options open, and that’s my point.

I’m a touch older and have no interest in making a hot sketch for the next thing. Implementing design holds only a little interest. Luckily, I have the opportunity to drive what design should be implemented, I create the briefs. For me, strategy trumps implementation. And I have the opportunity to do it for all markets other than the US. While the home run is more spectacular, grinding singles at my place of work is equally recognized, as it should be.

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Seems to me that if you want to keep the world from burning you should concentrate on the western inferno and not the non-western Bic lighter.

There’s some serious truth in that statement.

It’s not directly related to this topic, but I saw this organization pop up in my twitter feed and it reminded me of this thread.

GiveDirectly is the first — and largest — nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest. We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice.

88% of every dollar goes directly to the poor, which is a far better average than most non-profits. If you are in the spirit of giving right now, this is one of the better programs.

@jon I worked with Catapult Design on some projects in West and East Africa, one with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. While I feel lucky to have been able to do so, my experience was mixed. On the plus side is the travel, assuming you love travel, to remote regions you probably otherwise would never see. I understand your fascination with designing for other cultures - it is just as interesting as it sounds. When designing for a culture different from you own, you are forced to put aside any assumptions about what you think a product should be, or what your target user group might want. Given vast cultural differences, on the ground research is very a important not-to-be skipped step. Just like learning a new language, the immersion aspect of living in the place for which you are designing would be helpful in this regard. I believe that’s why BoP-serving design firms like Proximity, iDE, and 17Triggers have in-country offices. You may want to see if they are hiring - but I would also issue some serious warnings.

Working in international development as an Industrial designer, or even an engineer is extremely specialized with very few job prospects. There’s a bit more in UX, Graphic, and Service, but still not a ton. Think hard about if you are willing to move frequently for these scattered jobs, assuming you can break through the highly competitive pool of applicants. If working outside the US, be prepared to expect less pay, almost anywhere else, especially low in a developing country. Money’s not everything, but if you ever want to move back, you might find it difficult to leverage a foreign salary for US job. As a US citizen, you will technically also be expected to continue paying US taxes on top of those of whichever country you move to. Some counties in Europe have tax rebates for foreigners - but the paperwork can be complicated. We are unfortunately one of the only countries in the world with this draconian law.

Read more here: Only Two Countries Do This Appalling Thing—And the U.S. Is One of Them - Doug Casey's International Man

Development work is also subject to political tides which influence donor funding. For example, I know the conservative majority in the US government has directly affected US Development Aid money, a big source of funding for this type of work. The effectiveness of “aid” in general can be a loaded, complex topic to work through. I don’t believe it is net positive or negative but really depends on the strategy of its application. For example, it was probably good to send food aid to Haiti after the earthquake, but bad to keep doing so for years after, because it destroyed the business of local food-producing industries, creating dependency on foreign influence. Even products “designed for the poor” can feel a bit patronizing and easily go terribly wrong. I haven’t seen exact numbers, but I would assume that an extremely high percentage of products in this category are abject failures due to lack of customer understand, wrong assumptions, lack of prior art research, and poor sustainment plans. There are definitely exceptions, for example products found in e4c’s Solution Library, a vetted data base of BoP-focused products. In my view, the more successful products are the typically the ones developed in tight-knit collaboration with a local community. I recommend reading the work of Paul Pollock who founded iDE, to learn more. He formed one of the largest, most successful business in this arena with an empathy-based approach to designing for these undeserved communities.

There’s another unfortunate issue with regards to this type of work in your portfolio. While a product designed for Africa might be wildly successful in the local market, it could appear badly designed or rudimentary to the western eye, especially if locally fabricated. This can create confusion without proper explanation.

This work can can be difficult, at times isolating, but ultimately rewarding if you choose to pursue it. Just bear in mind some of the harsh realities. Here is a google group which sometimes posts product-type jobs. Redirecting to Google Groups

Interesting that you say this. I was just going to update this thread with the question if anyone could recommend any volunteer organizations that would work with the prospect of me applying my design skills.

The sole purpose, is I am looking for a change that would hopefully lead to opportunities for me to expand my search for how/where I could apply my skills in a broader sense.

To run with your analogy, I don’t need a home run. A single would do just fine right now.

Being an American living in Canada, I am all too aware of this process. Makes me seriously consider renouncing my US citizenship…especially considering I’ve lived here for 25+ years.

As for your other recommendations, thanks for all of that. I’m about 4 years out of being able to move around, so I think I need to pull back to either short contract or volunteer positions for now. I’d love suggestions if you have them.

Pollack is who originally made me keen to get into this role. Mohammed Yunis (can’t be bothered to look up how to spell his name) is the other.

The short story is that I simply want to get out and see the world on a different level than a tourist. Some form of live/work is my goal. Starting small and going from there is very much on the table right now.

A friend of mine did was a designer at nike and now consults and does some volunteer work around the globe. The volunteer work is not design related. It is more on the level of delivering water purifiers to remote regions of the world. This is the org he volunteers for:

Yes! That looks amazing. Thanks for that link.

I’m coming around to the idea that I don’t need to apply my design skills in this, but that has been the daydream for quite some time, so it is a bit tough for me to let go.

I wonder if you could contact manufacturers in the regions and just pitch your design skills at local pricing. There are injection molders and metal benders everywhere and everyone wants to sell more.

I’m currently working with manufacturers in India (small ones, some not even SME size, not major international ones) and it is extremely difficult. They seem to not want to listen to anything and have wasted a lot of time and money so far. Everything we advised, they ignored, and then realised they need to take our advice. It honestly almost feels like they are doing it on purpose - knowing that we need to try again with them and pay more for the next try.

That does seem to be the norm there though, in Delhi; people trying to make as much money out of you as they can. Whether they’re cab drivers who turn off their meters and give you a set rate 5x more than locals, or shop owners that have no price tags on things so they can make different prices up for foreigners, or customer assistants that try to purposely short you by 500 rupees by giving you your change in 100s instead of 500s. I’ve seen all that and more.

I experienced the ‘foreigner rate’ in another developing country. It sucks feeling singled out and ripped off, but on the other hand, it’s very obvious when people visiting have a bit more than 5x what the local cab driver or even shop owner have. When you consider the reasons wealthier people are visiting these places (either for business or leisure), it seems that the “people trying to make as much money out of you as they can” is mutual… even if it’s slightly unbalanced.

If you’re getting a 100 instead of 500 bill in India, you’re out $5. Getting ripped off in very poor countries is hardly ever a big deal when you earn in USD- though police/authorities can extort more forcefully. I assumed you were there to get things made as cheap as possible… but it sounds like you may be doing development work?

On the original topic, and related to do-nothing (or worse) NGOs, there is backlash against outsiders ‘called to help.’ As one example in east Africa, look up nowhitesaviors on instagram. I find the group pretty flawed despite some compelling direct action, but it’s some hard-to-swallow food for thought.

I am doing humanitarian development work, so no, I am not exploiting them for cheap manufacturing costs. $5 alone is not a lot, sure, but when every taxi driver charges you $2-3 more per ride, and everywhere and everyone else is doing it all day for everything it adds up. I am on a student bursary (PhD) also, so not super rich.

We are partnered with Indian charities and universities so not interjecting our help or being “called in”. It is partnership.